Comparing themes in “Recitatif” and “This is What It Means to Say, Phoenix, Arizona”

Published: 2021-06-27 16:50:05
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The relationships we see within Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif” and Sherman Alexie’s “This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona” are very complex, however, whether we’re examining a mother and daughter, or two childhood friends, it is clear our theme deals with the security and solidarity of relationships. Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif” depicts the complex relationships that two girls in foster care, Twyla and Roberta, have with their mothers. Twyla’s mother and Roberta’s mother share a tragic flaw – their conditions prevent them from caring for their daughters.
However, their conditions do differ – Twyla’s mother’s condition may be self inflicted. Twyla’s mother is a prostitute, and she may drink or do drugs heavily in the way that we see her sloppily greet Twyla: “… and she smiled and waved like she was a little girl looking for her mother – not me. ” (Morrison 370) “Mary dropped to her knees and grabbed me, mashing the basket, the jelly beans, and the grass into her ratty fur jacket. ” (Morrison 370) Roberta’s mother may suffer from conditions out of her control – she seems as though she is mentally ill.
Roberta’s mother obsessively holds her Bible and refuses to shake Twyla’s mother’s hand. We can also note that these conditions never cease – each time Twyla and Roberta’s lives intersect, they mention that their mothers never got better: “Did I tell you, my mother, she never did stop dancing. ” (Morrison 370) The relationships Twyla and Roberta maintain with their mothers can be seen as dysfunctional solely on the fact that the girls are in a foster home. However, the mothers’ visit at St. Bonny’s gave me a slightly different feeling – these dysfunctional mothers love their daughters very much, in very different ways.
While Mary’s sloppy entrance mortified Twyla, their embrace is a very secure, happy moment for Twyla: “I could have killed her… But I couldn’t stay mad at Mary while she was smiling and hugging me and smelling of Lady Esther dusting powder. I wanted to stay buried in her fur all day. ” (Morrison 370) We can see Roberta’s loving relationship with her mother during the same visit at St. Bonny’s: “Her mother had brought chicken legs and ham sandwiches and oranges and a whole box of chocolate-covered grahams. Roberta drank milk from a thermos while her mother read the Bible to her.
” (Morrison 370) This loving dynamic almost made me forget that Roberta was living as a foster child. I tried to ignore that Roberta’s mother may have gone the extra mile out of guilt or compensation – Roberta was happy, and was too young to analyze the gesture further anyway. In Sherman Alexie’s “This is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona”, we analyze the relationship between Victor and Thomas. Victor and Thomas were friends in their early childhood, but had a falling out at fifteen years old. The falling out was a drunken fist fight initiated by Victor, leaving Thomas badly beaten up.
We might believe that Victor acted aggressively towards him out of embarrassment – he wanted to show the boys in their neighborhood that he wasn’t friends with Thomas, because Thomas was an outcast: “All the other Indian boys stood around and watched it happen. Junior was there and so were Lester, Seymour, and a lot of others. ” (Alexie 326) We might also credit their falling out to the fact that they have such different cultural beliefs. Thomas is extremely unique – he tells odd stories, and believes nature can speak to him: “I heard it on the wind. I heard it from the birds.
I felt it in the sunlight. ” (Alexie 326) While those may seem like characteristics of a mental patient, Thomas takes his beliefs from a traditional Native American culture. Victor’s cultural beliefs stray from that lifestyle, and eventually led him off of their reservation. We see how different their beliefs are during their conversation on the Fourth of July: “‘You know’ Thomas said. ‘It’s strange how us Indians celebrate the Fourth of July. It ain’t like it was our independence everybody was fighting for. ’ ‘You think about things too much,’ Victor said.
‘It’s just supposed to be fun. ’” (Alexie 326) In their short interaction, it is clear that Thomas has an identity that is more aligned with the Native Americans who were put onto reservations and do not feel “American” in the cultural sense of the word. Thomas doesn’t feel that the Fourth of July applies to him. Victor, on the other hand, is simply enjoying the excitement of the fireworks, fun, and celebration. Victor doesn’t put much stock into the thought that Native Americans do not have their freedom in the way the Fourth of July presents it.
The two stories represent a similar theme: the influence of our relationships as we mature into adults. Twyla and Roberta’s relationship influences they way they interact with each other as adults. While Victor didn’t have much of a relationship with his father, the trip he takes to retrieve his father’s remains becomes an emotional journey. We can also compare these stories in their use of flashbacks and flashforwards – which are explained by Jan Schmidt in our Legacies textbook. Flashbacks and flashforwards provide “dramatic impact, irony and double meanings” (Schmidt 1346)

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